19 Famous Actors Who Started Out As Athletes

Published on January 14, 2018
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I just love the story of how some people become famous and popular actors, especially when these “people” are already well known athletes. When you’ve already been in the limelight as an incredible boxer or basketball player, entering the spotlight as an actor seems like a pretty smooth transition. Check out these 19 famous actors who started off as mere and awesome athletes.

Gina Carano

Long before she was a breakout actress, this gorgeous brunette was a well known fitness model, and former mixed martial artist. Before she retired, she competed in Strikeforce and EliteXC. She was heavily featured in ESPN The Magazine as well as Maxim, and rightly so. She’s often referred to as the “face of women’s MMA” but she denies this claim. Her film debut was in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 action film Haywire, but currently she is best known for her roles in Fast & Furious 6 and Deadpool. This girl is on fire.

Gina Carano

Gina Carano

John Cena

Oh, John Cena. What can we say about you? Well let’s see, you started your professional wrestling career in 1999 with Ultimate Pro Wrestling and won the UPW Heavyweight Championship the following year. Not bad. Cena has been dubbed as the “most polarizing professional wrestler ever” as his WWE character has so many supporters and many detractors. In 2015, he was even credited as the “face of WWE”. In his acting career, he’s done quite a bit. With films like The Marine, Trainwreck, and Sisters to name a few.

John Cena

John Cena

Lou Ferrigno

This man is a true legend! Come on, he was ‘The Hulk’! Before Lou was an actor, he was actually a fitness trainer, fitness consultant and retired professional bodybuilder. When he was a bodybuilder, Ferrigno won an IFBB Mr. America title and two consecutive IFBB Mr. Universe titles, and he also appeared in the bodybuilding documentary ‘Pumping Iron’. In his acting career, everyone knows him for his title role in the CBS television series The Incredible Hulk. He has also appeared in European-produced fantasy-adventures such as ‘Sinbad of the Seven Seas’ and ‘Hercules’, and as himself in the hit sitcom ‘The King of Queens’ and the 2009 comedy ‘I Love You, Man’.

Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno

Andre the Giant

André René Roussimoff is best known as Andre the Giant, he started off as a French WWWE champ with a huge rivalry with Hulk Hogan before he did a bit of acting. In 1993, André was even inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He will always be remembered as Fezzik, the giant from the greatest film ever, The Princess Bride. It’s not like he was going to become a plumber.

Andre The Giant

Andre The Giant

Jason Lee

This hilarious actor used to be a professional skateboarder in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I know, it’s pretty hard to see him as anything but an actor. We will always remember him as Earl Hickey in the television comedy series My Name Is Earl, David Seville in the Alvin and the Chipmunks film franchise, the voice of Syndrome in The Incredibles. Jason Lee is just a world class actor in our book.

Jason Lee

Jason Lee

Bubba Smith

I honestly had no clue that Bubba Smith used to be a professional football player who even won a Superbowl. I’ve only ever known him as as Moses Hightower in the iconic first six Police Academy movies. Man, are those great films. We’re so glad he pursued his talents and didn’t wind an electrician otherwise the world would have never known his talent.

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Don’t worry, of course Arnold Schwarzenegger is on this list! He used to be a professional body builder, what you already knew that? Okay fine, everyone pretty much knows everything about Arnold but come on, bare with us. Before acting, he won the Mr. Universe title at age 20 and went on to win the Mr. Olympia contest seven times. Impressive. He would go on to gain global fame after his breakout performance in the film, Conan the Barbarian. He would then go on to star in The Terminator franchise, Kindergarten Cop, Predator, and Twins just to name a few. Although from 2003 to 2011, Arnold was the Governor of California. Not bad!

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Howie Long

When Howie Long was a pretty talented football player, he was named to eight Pro Bowls and even helped the Raiders win a Super Bowl title. He was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Although most people know him as the studio analyst for Fox Sports Networks’ NFL coverage. However he’s also a talented actor who even starred in some hilarious commercials.

Howie Long

Howie Long

Terry Bradshaw

Bradshaw is a former American football quarterback who played professionally in the NFL. Ever since 1994, he has been a TV analyst and co-host of Fox NFL Sunday. As an actor, he participated in many television shows and films, most notably starring in the movie Failure To Launch.

Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw

Chuck Norris

Where do we even begin, Chuck Norris is a legend! After Norris served in the United States Air Force, he began his rise to fame as a martial artist, and has even founded his own school, Chun Kuk Do. He’s also an actor, film producer and a screen writer. Norris has starred in a number of action films, like Way of the Dragon and The Expendables. He even played the starring role in the TV series Walker, Texas Ranger.

Premiere Of Lionsgate Films' "The Expendables 2" Red Carpet

Chuck Norris

Esther Williams

Before becoming an actress, Esther was a competitive swimmer. She set multiple national and regional swimming records and because of World War II, she was unable to compete in the 1940 Summer Olympics. In the 40s and 50s, she starred in many iconic films of that time. Such as ‘Andy Hardy’s Double Life’ and ‘Thrill of a Romance’.

Esther Williams

Esther Williams

Fred Williamson

In the 60s, Williamson was a pro defensive back who went on to get his black belts in Kenpō, Shotokan karate and taekwondo. He’s had a pretty successful acting career before he turned his attention to directing and producing. He starred in films like Starsky and Hutch, From Dusk till Dawn, and Crazy Joe.

Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Another legend makes the list, of course. He used to be a college football player for the University of Miami, where he even won a national championship on the 1991 Miami Hurricanes football team. He would go on to have international fame and success during his WWE career as “The Rock”, he’s a six time Triple Crown Champion in WWE history, and won the 2000 Royal Rumble. The Rock widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time (we totally agree!) He would go to star in many films, with his first leading role in The Scorpion King. He’s starred in some pretty great films since then, including the Fast and the Furious franchise.

Dwayne The Rock Johnson

Dwayne The Rock Johnson

OJ Simpson

Yes, we know, OJ Simpson has a heck of a negative rap sheet but he was a very successful football running back who had a great run at acting and as a broadcaster. He starred in very dramatic motion pictures like The Klansman, The Towering Inferno, The Cassandra Crossing, Capricorn One, Back to the Beach, and The Naked Gun trilogy. He was also a commentator for Monday Night Football and The NFL on NBC.

Oj Simpson

OJ Simpson

Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn is a retired Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete who is currently a loved TV personality. After winning the Olympic decathlon, the winner is traditionally given the unofficial title of “world’s greatest athlete.” After that incredible honor, Caitlyn subsequently cemented a career in television, film, writing, auto racing, business and as a Playgirl cover model. From 2015 to 2016, Caitlyn starred in the reality television series I Am Cait, which focused on her gender transition and we so admire her for that.

Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner

Michael Jordan

There is no doubt about it, Michael Jordan is easily one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and is easily considered instrumental in popularizing the NBA around the world in the 80s and 90s. Jordan is a two-time inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame and is a member of the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015. While he’s only acted a little bit, his role in ‘Space Jam’ will always stay near and dear to our hearts.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Jim Brown

Jim Brown will always be remembered for his record-setting nine-year career as a fullback for the Cleveland Browns. Impressive! After his retirement, he pursued an acting career. He starred in films like Rio Conchos, The Dirty Dozen, 100 Rifles and One Down, Two to Go to name a few.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown

Mike Tyson

Everyone knows Mike Tyson as the former heavyweight champion boxer who bit someone’s ear off and for his stint in some Hollywood films. Tyson held the undisputed heavyweight championship and still holds the record as the youngest boxer to win the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight titles at just 20 years old. However it’s his work in The Hangover franchise that’s he’s commonly associated with.

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq is known as quite the legend on the basketball court and as he should be! This 7 foot giant is nothing short of a pro as he’s regarded as one of the best centers in the league. We’ve also had the pleasure to see him in films like ‘Freddy Got Fingered’, ‘Jack and Jill’ and ‘Scary Movie 4’.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2014

Shaquille O’Neal